H I N D U I S M
Hinduism, one of the worlds oldest living religions, is the dominant
religion of India. The term Hindu stems from the Persian word Hind,
meaning a dweller in the Indus River region where the earliest roots of
Hinduism began. Hindu may refer to anyone from India but is usually
applied only to members of the Hindu faith group. Adherents are sometimes
called Brahmanists because of the influence of the Brahmans or priests. The
Republic of India is the home of more than 95% of the worlds Hindus with
most of the remaining adherents residing in Pakistan and Sri Lanka
Hinduism is prehistoric in origin but has undergone numerous develop-
ments, attempted reforms, and changes due to varying local pressure.
The history of Hinduism begins with the Indo-European Invasion of India
beginning in 5000 B.C. Hinduism has no historical founder, According to
tradition, sacred scriptures, called the Four Vedas, were revealed to spiritual
men (rishis) who lived on the banks of the Indus and Ganges Rivers. One
of the Vedas, the Rig-Veda is the oldest of Indias sacred books and is
considered to be the most important. It is a collection of prayers and praises.
The teachings contained in these books were handed down by prophets and
philosophers. The faith which was taught by these sacred scriptures and
practiced by the Hindus was a vigorous, worldly religion with a positive view
of the afterlife.
The second stage of Hindu history centers on the production of the
Upanishads, the major collection of Hindu religious writings, and the rise of
the ruling Brahman class. During this period, beginning about 1000 B. C.,
the positive attitudes of the Vedic period gave way to a generally pessimistic
view of life, and the ideas of Karma and reincarnation came to the fore.
Reincarnation is a concept which holds that a person may go through a
succession of earthly lives; in its more extreme forms, a soul may return as an
animal or even as a plant.
The Brahmic era was disrupted by the conquest of India by Great Britain
around 1757. An initial defensive reaction to British rule and Christian
missions was followed by the creative Hindu Renaissance, the third stage of
Hindu development. Led by outstanding leaders such as Ram Mohan Roy
and Sri Ramakrishna, reformed Hindu movements emerged during the latter
part of the 1800s.
The Caste System
Caste, or hereditary social order, has been binding on all Hindus for
hundreds of years. Caste began as a social system but soon became a rigid
part of the religious teachings of Hinduism. The four traditional castes, in
order of rank, are (1) Brahmans, the priests and intellectuals; (2) Kshatriyas,
the warriors and rulers; (3) Vaisyas, the artisans and agriculturalists; and
(4) Sudras, the unskilled laborers. Pariahs, the untouchables or outcasts,